Saturday, January 26, 2013

Chard ~ The leafy health food of the Mediterranean

This winter I discovered chard.  Granted it's been around for centuries, but until this winter I had never prepared it.  Our local produce shop had it in fresh bundles and even our Trader Joe's had it cut in bags and marked 'holiday chard', presumably for the colors of the stalks.  While the leaves are always green, chard stalks vary in color.

Chard has highly nutritious leaves and is considered to be one of the healthiest vegetables available.  A member of the beet family, it is often called "Swiss Chard", which was used to distinguish it from French spinach varieties by 19th century seed catalog publishers. I'm told Chard is very popular among Mediterranean cooks and that the first varieties have been traced back to Sicily.

Purchase one pound of raw chard for four people.  It will look like a lot but it cooks down considerably.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound chard (any color combination)
crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)
salt (to taste)

To prepare the chard simply wash thoroughly and cut off the bottom, tough part of the stems (leaving the top more tender colorful stem pieces and the leaves.)  Cut into 1-2 inch squares and spin or towel dry.

Quail on Chard
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or wok.  When hot but not yet smoking, add teh chopped garlic and toss in the oil for one minute.  Add the chard to the skillet one handful at a time, stirring and turning constantly, and adding more chard to the pan as it cooks down.  Add the crushed red pepper flakes and salt to taste.  Serve hot.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Caribbean Jerk Chicken

Getting ready for my trip to the Caribbean, I thought I would try a classic Caribbean dish known as Jerk Chicken.  "Jerk" refers both to the spices used in preparation as well as the technique.  While most people associate 'jerk' with Jamaica, the dish was mostly like derived from African ancestry and then modified over hundreds of years as it was prepared in the Caribbean islands.  One new addition to the recipe was likely the Scotch bonnet pepper, which is largely responsible for the heat found in today's Caribbean jerks. The Scotch bonnet is one of the hottest chili peppers around with a heat level similar to the habanero chili pepper, but one not native to Africa.

Jerk seasoning can be dry or wet and used with most any grilled meat; chicken and pork being common in the Caribbean. The ingredients can vary, depending on the cook, but today's recipes generally are a combination of chilis, thyme, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, garlic and onions. Jerk seasoning can be either rubbed directly onto meat or blended with a liquid to create a marinade.

While in the islands I'll be grilling the chicken as they traditionally do, but it's snowing in Chicago as I prepare this.  So I'll be making it in the oven instead.  Because of this, I think a wet marinade will be best so it can season the meat more deeply and will brown more readily in the oven.  And since I'm making a Caribbean dish, I believe I will add a bit of dark rum to the recipe.  If you don't want to make the jerk marinade yourself, most grocers carry something similar to this bottle of pre-made sauce.

I'm making this with all chicken dark meat (about 2 pounds of chicken legs and thighs) because you get a better, more moist and flavorful piece of meat, but you can use whatever chicken cuts you prefer or even your favorite cuts of pork.

1/2 cup malt vinegar
10 green onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled, chopped
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 Scotch bonnet chiles or habanero chiles with seeds, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 teaspoons ground allspice
4 teaspoons ground ginger
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar

3 tablespoons dark rum
2 tablespoons water

1 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons soy sauce

Mix all of the ingredients in the first set above (from the vinegar to the brown sugar).  Place your meat in a bowl and toss with a tablespoon or two of the ingredients.  Place is a zip lock bag and refrigerate for 2 hours.  (If you go with the pre-made sauce in a bottle, use the ingredients above to marinade or a bit of the bottled sauce.)

Boil rum and 2 tablespoons water in small saucepan for 3 minutes.  Transfer rum mixture to blender; add the remaining unused marinade mixture and blend until almost smooth. Transfer to a bowl and mix in ketchup and soy sauce.

Place the marinated meat in a baking dish prepared with food release.  Baste the meat with the sauce and place in an oven preheated to 350F.  For chicken legs and thighs, cook one hour basting with remaining sauce as necessary.  If chicken starts to become too brown, cover with foil.  Remove foil 10 minutes prior to serving so the skin is more dry.

I'm serving the jerk chicken with a rice dish as they do tend to eat rice and not potatoes in the islands. by the time you read this posting I should be in warm, sunny Caribbean and making another version on the grill.  Wherever you are, I hope you are keeping warm and enjoying cooking!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Crab Cakes with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Seems I make crab dishes pretty often.  A quick search of this blog revealed quite a number of recipes that feature crab.  It is surely something to love and makes a great treat on a special occasion or an easy weeknight dinner.  You can easily make both the crab cakes and the sauce days ahead and keep them in the refrigerator until ready for use.

I discussed my crab cake and red pepper sauce recipe just briefly way back in 2010, so today since I'm making these favorites once again, I thought it was about time I give you the full recipe for both the crab cakes and the sauce.

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
This sauce can be used for any number of dishes but it is particularly good with seafood.  I'm using it as a sauce for a stuffed fillet of sole next week, as well as for the crab cakes tonight.  The sauce holds reasonably well in the refrigerator. Simply warm it before serving.


2 large  Red Peppers
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/8 cup  wine vinegar
4 cloves  garlic -- chopped
2 tablespoons  honey -- or simple syrup
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3/4 cup  olive oil
salt and pepper -- to taste

Cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds.  Rub lightly with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Roast on the grill or in the oven on a foil-lined cookie sheet until the peppers are slightly charred and tender.  Using your hands or a paper towel, peel off the charred skins.  Roughly chop the roasted peppers and place them in the food processor. 

Add the wine vinegar, garlic, honey and Dijon mustard to the food processor bowl.  Blend for 30-40 seconds, then with the motor running, slowly add the oil in a thin stream until it emulsifies.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Crab Cakes
The problem with many crab cakes is that they are too much cake and not enough good crab.  I find this particularly so in the store bought or restaurant produced variety.  This recipe ensures you have just barely enough 'cake' to hold them together.  Your guests won't be disappointed!  The hardest part of the entire recipe is tracking down a good brand of canned crab.

1 pound  crab claw meat or 'lump' crab -- canned and drained
1 large egg
1 small green pepper, chopped and optional
1 small onion, finely chopped and optional
3 dashes hot sauce
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seafood seasoning
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 tablespoons parsley -- chopped
3/4 cup  bread crumbs, Italian preferred
2 teaspoons  cornmeal
2 tablespoons cooking oil

Whisk together all ingredients except for the crab meat, bread crumbs, cornmeal and cooking oil.  
Add the crab and gently fold in.  Add the bread crumbs and gently fold in.

Shape into patties about 2 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick for dinner portions, two per person.  Or make smaller or use one per person as an appetizer.

With the Optional Green Pepper and Onion
Place on platter or in plastic container on wax paper.  Dust lightly with corn meal.  Refrigerate one hour.  This will help to hold the cakes together during cooking.

Add oil to skillet and heat on medium until the oil is hot but not smoking.  (If the oil is not hot it will simply absorb into the cakes and make them greasy.)  Saute on medium heat turning once until golden brown.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Asian Meatballs with Rice Noodle Stir Fry

With the holidays just about behind us, I wanted to make something different; lighter, Asian flavors and easy to pull together for a weeknight dinner.  I had made Asian chicken meatballs previously for an appetizer and thought I could easily turn it into a main dish.

Why chicken meat balls, you ask?  We've been trying to cut down somewhat on our beef and pork consumption.  We haven't gone to 'meatless Monday's' yet but that may be in our future.  If you prefer you can certainly use a beef and pork combination.  But don't just make Italian flavored meatballs.  Use the ingredients listed here to spice things up a bit.

Prepare the Noodles and Stir Fry
Purchase one pound of dried rice Thai-style straight cut noodles and La Choy or comparable brand of stir fry vegetables in a 26 ounce can.  Now I know I've never recommended a canned vegetable on this blog and never purchase them for anything else.  But for this recipe, they really do work best and make preparation simple.  Amazingly they remain a bit crisp.

To prepare the noodles, simply soak them in room temperature water until the noodles are pliable yet firm. When you bite off a piece, it should be chewy yet feel not ready to eat. (The soaking time varies depending on the width of the noodles. For 3-millimeter-wide noodles, 20-30 minutes of soaking in room temperature water should suffice; for anything wider than that, increase the soaking time according to the package directions.) You know the noodles are ready when they're soft enough for you to twirl them around your fingers without breaking them.  Drain the noodles well and set them aside.  While they soaking (use a timer) prepare the meatballs.

2 pounds ground chicken
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 cups breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 eggs
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 small, finely chopped jalapeno pepper
Sesame seeds and sliced green onions for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Place the above ingredients in your food processor and pulse until well combined.  Alternatively mix the ingredients in a large bowl.  While I prefer Italian style meatballs mixed by hand, for these Asian meatballs I do prefer the more consistently and fully blended results you can only get from a food processor.

Form the chicken mixture into small round balls by scooping out equal portions and rolling between your palms.  They should be packed more tightly than an Italian meatball and smaller in size, more like a cocktail meatball.

Place the formed meatballs in a large lightly greased baking dish.  Bake for 20 minutes or until balls are browned on the outside and no longer pink on the inside.

2/3 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon ground ginger
8 ounce can crushed pineapple

While your meatballs are baking put the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and stir together until well blended.  Reserve 1/3 cup.  When the meatballs have finished cooking, pour the sauce over the hot meatballs return to the oven for 10 minutes longer, stirring occasionally to fully coat.

While the meatballs bake in the sauce. heat a large skillet or wok.  Add a few drops of oil and the reserved 1/3 cup of sauce.  Add the noodles and stir fry for three minutes.  Add the canned stir fry vegetables (drained of any liquid) and continue cooking for three minutes longer until they are heated through.

Plate the stir fry noodles and top with the Asian chicken meatballs and spoon over some additional sauce.  Garnish with additional sliced green onions and sesame seeds if desired.

Of course, you can just do the chicken meatballs as a cocktail appetizer.  Double the recipes and put in a crock pot and keep warm for serving.